Rebecca Simuyemba|25.10.2017|Feature

Dating has never been easy.

 

There was a time where you would simply approach the object of your desires on the street. Perhaps you were even introduced by a ‘friend of a friend’ or clumsily danced your way up to someone in a nightclub. Nonetheless, there has always been that lingering fear of the response you’ll get. To fan the flames, a new way of courtship has been introduced to us—online dating. We still live in a time of drunken hook-ups and awkward advances, but apps like Tinder and Bumble have infiltrated the way we meet a potential partner.

Now throw the stigma surrounding a HIV+ diagnosis into the mix…

This is Frank’s story.

Frank

Frank Castro was just 18 when he discovered he was HIV Positive.

Standing in the middle of a tiny room during a military health screening, Frank found himself being told “You have AIDS.”

I was sheltered growing up, but as I got older I started going out” Frank says coyly. He admits he started taking risks by not using a condom and dabbling in drugs. “I had never really been into recreational drugs, but I started experimenting.”

Frank decided to join the military as a way to get away from it all.

“It was during my military health screening when the doctor took me aside and told me about my status. I don’t have AIDS. I’m HIV+. But at the time the resources weren’t very good and the doctor had no idea about the differences between HIV and AIDS. He also had no idea how to actually deal with me. He awkwardly pulled out a sheet of paper, with five helpline numbers on it, and said ‘I’m just going to… leave this with you’ and … left.

I just started to cry.

You have to understand…I was only 18 years old, weighed around 130 pounds, and thought I had AIDS… It was all a little too much for me. I ended up just running away and hiding in the alleyway behind the processing center. Stupid, I know, but I was 18 and scared. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was in that alleyway that I realized how the world was going to treat me going forward. After telling them ‘I have AIDS’, the first recruiter immediately pulled away. He was scared and didn’t know what to do. But the second recruiter, he came right up to me and just held me. He let me cry and just kept saying “It’s going to be O.K.” … That’s all I really needed in that moment … compassion and understanding.

I also learned that, no matter what you do, some people will judge you and other people will love you no matter what. I use that same philosophy when it comes to dating.”

How did you find dating at first?

“I was very apologetic about my status to start off with.

I would try dating apps, but I was quite withdrawn and found it hard being as transparent about being HIV positive as I am now. The gay community is very inclusive, but at the same time there is still stigma attached to having HIV.

What you have to remember is that back when I was diagnosed you wouldn’t proactively treat HIV. Doctors would not give out medication like they do now, they would wait until you crash. Now it is different and once you become undetectable the risk of passing on the disease is minimal. Dating can definitely be scary, but dating can be scary for everyone, what helped me was literally just saying F-it. I deal with my diagnosis by being funny on social media and sharing candid photos of my life. I call myself ‘HIV_Guy’ on Twitter and Instagram because I was tired of people calling me that behind my back – we all take a chance when we have sex. A lot of the stigma comes from the lack of education so if I can own “HIV Guy” and use it for Anti-Stigma purposes that makes me happy.

Being transparent worked for me and my confidence, but do whatever you feel comfortable with.”

When do you reveal your status to a potential partner?

“Dating with HIV can be scary because you really don’t know the response you’re going to get. Anger, kindness, violence, and acceptance are all on the table. So I’ll generally wait until the third date to disclose my status. This gives me the necessary time to really get a feel for the person and discern if it’s really safe for me to disclose. That being said, you should really do whatever works for you.”

Have you got any nightmare dating stories you would like to share?

“I’ve had violent responses to my status before. One guy in particular went from placid to angry the moment I told him and threw water at me. Another guy immediately told me to leave the restaurant we were in. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but I have found that because I am so transparent and disclose my status publically, dating has become easier. The hardest part is the stigma attached to it. A lot of people assume that because I’m HIV positive the person I’m with must be HIV positive too, which isn’t the case at all. A lot of people are afraid to even be associated with me, in a romantic way, because of the stigma and fear around how they will be perceived.”

Have you got a success dating story you would like to share?

“Well I have a boyfriend! Darren. I’m just lucky to have found someone who fully supports me and loves me for who I am. He’s secure in himself and educated. Which is nice. True story- we totally met at the local bar He was dancing with his shirt off and I literally just went right up to him and said ‘Hey – you wanna make out?’ and we made out! Self-confidence! Who knew?! It’s just nice to have someone who understands why I’m so open about my status.”

What advice would you give to anyone going through the same thing?

I have three general rules I like to lead with:

  1. Wear a condom
  2. Use PrEP* and PEP* 

(A lot of people aren’t aware of the “72-hour exposure” rule. If you feel guilty, “Don’t feel right”, or feel like you may have been exposed to HIV, immediately take yourself to an emergency room and demand to be put on PEP.)

3.Get social and get out of your comfort zone.

Lastly, anybody can contract HIV and the stigma is really something we must tackle. It sucks having to educate people, but I will continue being transparent in order to reach out to other and help remove the stigma associated with this epidemic.

Follow Frank Castro on Instagram – @HIV_Guy

* PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis) is a way to prevent HIV infections in instances when a recent exposure has possibly occurred. PEP should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV.

* PrEP is a daily pill which acts to disable HIV before it takes hold. It cuts the risk of being infected

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